Batman Triumphant: examining the sequel that never happened

Joel Schumacher was attached to make Batman Triumphant after Batman & Robin. What went wrong? And what would the movie have been like?

With the double bill of 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman & Robin, Joel Schumacher completely rewrote the rulebook of what a Batman movie could be, following on from the gothic brilliance of Tim Burton. In line with Warner Bros’ wishes, Schumacher veered the franchise into family friendly, toy-selling fare and earned a fair wad of box office dollar as a result.

Before Batman & Robin had even been released, Warner Bros was hoping that Schumacher would come back and direct his third Batman movie (the fifth one in the franchise overall). They had planned to get the film in cinemas during 1999.

With Akiva Goldsman – who’d worked on Batman Forever and Batman & Robin – opting not to return, Mark Protosevich (who’s since gone on to work on Thor, I Am Legend and the Oldboy remake) was brought in to pen a script. His draft was entitled Batman Unchained, although some sectors of the internet believe that Batman Triumphant was being banded around as a potential moniker as well.

Here’s everything we know about the movie, from its villains to the reasons that it ultimately didn’t get made…

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Who would have come back?

According to a 1997 interview archived on Variety’s website, published after the release of Batman & Robin, Joel Schumacher had intended to return to Batman after squeezing in three other films. “I feel I’m doing this for my sanity”, he said, while discussing a slate of projects that included the ‘gritty’ 8MM, ‘his own relationship script’ Flawless and Ben Elton adaptation Popcorn. Of those, only Popcorn ultimately went unproduced.

“I never planned to be the summer blockbuster guy,” Schumacher explained of this indie-flavoured sabbatical. “I began small, and all of these things just started happening and before you knew it, I’m up to my neck in John Grishams and Batman films. I’m grateful for all of it, but felt, especially on Batman & Robin, that the box office had become more important than the movie. I wanted to return to filmmaking, not blockbustermaking.

“I’d like to do one more [Batman], but I think we need to wait,” he added. “I felt I disappointed a lot of older fans by being too conscious of the family aspect. I’d gotten tens of thousands of letters from parents asking for a film their children could go to. Now, I owe the hardcore fans the Batman movie they would love me to give them.”

Schumacher continued: “[Producers] Bob Daly and Terry Semel would like me to do another, and I have an idea of a way to go that would be far less expensive. But this is my own idea, and they may kick me onto Barham Boulevard after they hear it.”

Interesting… So, the idea seems to have been that Schumacher would have gone off and made his non-blockbusters during 1998 while Protosevich got the Batman Triumphant script together. Then, he’d return to the franchise for what he hoped would be a smaller-budget, fan-pleasing movie. We doubt, at this stage, that the 1999 release date was looking all the plausible anymore.

On the actor side of things, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell and Michael Gough would all return for Batman Triumphant, but Alicia Silverstone’s inclusion was less certain (her Batgirl character didn’t appear in Protosevich’s script draft).

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Who were the villains?

“I remember going to the set of Face/Off and asking Nic Cage to play the Scarecrow,” Joel Schumacher recalled in a June 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. The character of Scarecrow, of course, is a psychiatrist called Dr Jonathan Crane who thrives on fear and often conducts evil experiments.

After this meeting between Schumacher and Cage – which must have taken place in 1997 at the very latest – Protosevich started work on the script for the sequel that he was calling Batman Unchained (he’s apparently not sure where ‘Triumphant’ came from, although it’s become the more popular online name for the movie in recent years).

A 150-page script outline was hashed out, with the intended-to-be-played-by-Nic-Cage Scarecrow at centre stage. “It would have been very dark”, Schumacher recalls, and the film would apparently have focused on George Clooney’s Batman ‘learning to conquer fear and to confront the demons of his past’.

These demons would have included the legacy of the Joker, as personified by the film’s secondary villain, Harley Quinn. Here, the popular comic book character would have been reimagined as a toymaker who finds out that the Joker is her father. Protosevich described his take on Harley as “sadistic in a mischievous, fun sense”. (Potential castings that were considered for Harley included Madonna and Courtney Love.)

Thus, Harley would develop a vengeful desire to bring down Batman, which would have contrasted with Scarecrow’s evil motivation. Scarecrow, apparently, would have had a personal vendetta against Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Eventually, upon working out that their targets are actually one and the same, Harley and Scarecrow would have teamed up in the third act.

Scarecrow would develop a fear toxin, with his plan being to use it on Bruce/Batman, turn him insane and get him locked up in Arkham Asylum. Batman’s time under the influence of the toxin was intended to culminate in a show-stopping cameo-filled hallucination sequence.

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Warner Bros wanted to bring back Danny DeVito’s Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face and Jim Carrey’s Riddler for this Batman freak-out scene, leading to a final confrontation with – who else? – Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Whether you like Schumacher’s Bat-films or not, it’s hard not to think that this villain-stuffed sequence would have been headline-gobbling.

What was the story?

As well as the villains, a few other titbits from the story of Batman Unchained/Batman Triumphant were revealed in that aforementioned Hollywood Reporter interview. For one, we would have seen a rift forming between Batman and Robin in the film. The boy wonder would have abandoned Gotham’s caped crusader at one stage, before coming back to assist him in the final fight.

On top of this, Bruce Wayne’s fear of bats would have been a central theme. At the end of the movie, Bruce would have flown to Bali and found a cave full of bats. By standing up in the cave and allowing the bats to swarm around him, Bruce would prove that he had conquered his fears following his showdown with Scarecrow.

“There’s a similar image in Batman Begins, where he discovers what will be the bat cave and it’s filled with bats and they are flying around him,” Protosevich noted to THR. “Not that this scene was inspired by mine, but it was a similar idea. It was a powerful image.”

The sins of Batman’s past would have been important to the plot too, and some of his hallucinations would apparetly have featured a trial format. It’s easy to assume that there might have been some guilt on his conscience about the deaths of Joker, Penguin and Two-Face from the previous movies. Batman may not have murdered them in cold blood, per se, but they all died as a result of fighting him.

“Joel wanted to tie up all of the films. The Tim Burton films and his films, building up to this moment,” Protosevich said of this decision to bring back the old villains in the third act. There’s a chance, if this tying-together went well, that Schumacher could have redeemed himself in the eyes of the Batman fanbase. But, of course, we’ll never know for sure.

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What happened?

Ultimately, Batman & Robin is what caused Batman Unchained/Triumphant to get binned. Following the release of Schumacher’s second Bat-movie and the subsequent backlash, Warner Bros executive Tom Lassally ended up with Protosevich first draft for the next movie on his desk. 

“A few days later, I’m getting a call from Joel,” Protosevich recalled to THR, “whose main comment was that I had written maybe the most expensive movie ever made. Then I remember I never heard from the executive at Warner Bros. I called many times, never got any kind of response.

“This got into a period of weeks and then a month, and my agent pestering Warners. And the next thing I knew, they were pulling the plug on the whole project. They were going to wait and see what they were going to do with Batman. The Joel Schumacher-driven Batman train was taken off the rails.” 

And from there, the rest is history.

Schumacher’s franchise was never continued with, and – after a few more scripts came and went – cinemagoers eventually got to see another live-action Batman in the shape of Christopher Nolan’s 2005 effort Batman Begins. As well as some similar-to-Triumphant Bat-imagery that we mentioned earlier, Begins also kept the Scarecrow as the main villain, Bruce’s fear of Bats as an important theme and hallucination scenes as recurrent plot events.

It’s also been pointed out that the Arkham Knight videogame features Scarecrow as the main villain, features hallucinations of previous baddies throughout, and Harley Quinn vowing revenge over the Joker’s death. These similar ideas are probably the closest thing to Batman Triumphant that we’ll ever get to experience, especially since Schumacher has played down rumours in recent years that Protosevich’s script could yet find life a comic book.

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It’s a shame, really, as this script sounds like it could have melded together the darker ideas of Tim Burton’s vision and the colourful pomp of Schumacher’s movies. Maybe, just maybe, it would’ve been a Batman film for absolutely everyone to enjoy. You never know…